15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
We’re talking about false prophets today, and the best way to spot a counterfeit is to know what the genuine article looks like. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches the true meaning of the Law and the Prophets, as He illuminates what the Kingdom of God is like. In several places, Jesus’ teaching has crossed the line into the prophetic role, as He has given us further illumination of God’s true purpose beyond what is revealed in the Old Testament.
The first word that Jesus uses is Beware—this means “be on your guard, a warning that we should take seriously. False prophets are defined as those who, claim for themselves the capacity to define for others the will of God, but represent in their practice and teaching a false understanding of the will of God, specifically an understanding that is not in accord with the Old Testament Law and the Prophets, as illuminated by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount & other teachings, and the rest of the New Testament.
False prophets will tell us that we can have a relationship with the God of the Bible through some other means besides coming to Him on the basis of accepting the free gift of Salvation, and making Jesus our Lord and Savior. They will say that you can have Jesus as your savior by answering an altar call, and then go live whatever way you want. And, of course, this type of “easy believism” produces lawlessness. This is completely opposite of what Jesus taught about the life and character of a Citizen of Heaven in the Beatitudes, and certainly fall far short of Jesus’ call to live our lives to a higher standard. And it prevents a true relationship with Christ, since the person has put faith in their confession, and believes that they’re already saved, which is deadly. And these people running around claiming that they are Christians, while living any way that they like also ruins the witness of Christ. As Romans 2:23 reminds us, 23 You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? 24 For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written. On the other hand, we must always remember that as Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. So, our works do not save us, nor do they keep us saved. Our works are an outpouring of what God is already doing inside us. We are to beware of false prophets because their influence can and will distort our own relationship with the teaching of Jesus, and with Jesus Himself.
who come to you in sheep’s clothing
What does it mean to be a sheep of God? It means that we follow Him. We don’t have the right to call ourselves God’s sheep, and call God our shepherd unless we have been bought with a price by Him. Psalm 95:7 For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.
Jesus describes Himself in John 10 as the door that the sheep are called to, that shelters and saves the sheep, and gives us life, and that more abundantly. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that He points the way to the gate, or ushers us to the gate, He says that He IS the gate—we must go through Him, be identified with Him in order to find life everlasting.
Unbelievers are called wolves, or goats or dogs, or even pigs. But in this case, we’re talking about wolves. Since they disguise themselves as sheep, their falseness is not necessarily immediately apparent. This disguise is to enable free movement by the wolf among the flock of sheep, which therefore identified as the wolf’s intended prey. In Luke 10: Jesus said “Truly, truly I say to you, the one who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. Anyone who tells you that there are other ways to reach the God of the Bible besides Jesus is teaching you to be a thief and a robber—who steal God’s sheep—and will be judged. So, we see that these false prophets are not followers of God, they’re not saved—they try to come into the sheepfold some other way than the gate of the sheep, Jesus.
Be on the Alert
Paul warned the church at Ephesus of this very thing during his farewell address to them in Acts 20:27-30. And note that Paul first gives the mark of a true preacher of the Word. He says in Acts 20:26-27 6 Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all people. 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Paul says that in order to be innocent of the blood of the flock, to not be a wolf, we must not be afraid to preach and teach the whole purpose of God. In other words, whatever God puts on our hearts, we preach and teach, no matter if it’s difficult to hear. Paul is concerned that others will come who will preach a different gospel; things that are different from what God wants us to understand from His Word. In verse 28, he continues: 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore, be on the alert, So Paul warns the Ephesians twice to be on their guard against people who would raise themselves up, and then teach a twisted version of biblical doctrine.
1st Characteristic of False Prophets/teachers—twisting the Gospel
So it is preaching another gospel is the problem. In 2 Cor 11:3-4 Paul defends his ministry by contrasting it with what false prophets teach, saying 3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his trickery, your minds will be led astray from sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, this you tolerate very well! Paul notes that people have a tendency to accept and receive false teaching easier than the true teaching
but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
If we want to know what these wolves are like, we see a great description in Ezekiel 22:27-29. 27 Her leaders within her are like wolves tearing the prey, by shedding blood and destroying lives in order to make dishonest profit. 28 And her prophets have coated with whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘This is what the Lord God says,’ when the Lord has not spoken. 29 The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery, and they have oppressed the poor and needy, and have oppressed the stranger without justice. Wolves make their predatory attacks on the poor and needy. They were doing it in Ezekiel’s day, and God poured out His indignation upon them, and brought their own way down upon their heads. And in Jesus’ day, this behavior represent the behavior of Jewish officials of the day, who devoured widows houses, and for a pretext, made long prayers. And they do the same thing today, asking people to sign over their houses or give away their life savings. The attacks in Ezekiel’s day were blatant, but the attacks today are more insidious. The attack of the wolf is to be understood as serving the self-interest of the wolf.
Remember in Acts 20 vs 30 Paul not only said that they would speak perverse or twisted things, but would also draw away the disciples after them. Their desire for these charismatic teachers is to have a following themselves. They want people to follow them; they only pay lip-service to Jesus in order to make this possible among the more gullible of His sheep.
We, as Sheep, Follow Jesus
John 10:14, Jesus is talking and He says “14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me,”. David’s talking about the God who created all things, both seen and unseen. Colossians 1, starting in verse 16 and talking about Jesus says: all things have been created through Him and for Him. If our Lord Jesus can create all things, existed before all things and literally holds together our universe then He is fully qualified and has adequate credentials to be the shepherd and manager of your life and my life. We can trust him to do a good job managing our lives.
The first question that we have to ask about this verse is Enter Where? Jesus is teaching about the Way to Eternal life. Long before being a Christ-follower was called Christianity, it was first called simply The Way. We are not only Christ followers, but we are identified personally with Him.
through the narrow gate
The Way leads to the entry through the narrow gate. To get to the right gate, you have to choose the right way.
for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction
The alternative to the narrow gate is a wide gate: there are only two gates, the narrow and the wide, and that everyone must go through one of these two gates. A wide gate (such as the main gate of a city) is set up to deal with the movement of large numbers of people.
Most people assume that as long as they don’t mess up their life too badly on earth, that they’ll go to heaven when they die. But, that’s not what the Bible says. According to scripture, we see that the default destination for humanity is not the Kingdom of God. David said In Psalm 51:1-5 that he was not only born “a little baby sinner”, but he was a sinner even before he was born! Romans 3:23 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and just in case you think “well, I understand everyone else is a sinner, but I’m a pretty good person”, then Romans 3:10-11. The wide gate is reached by the broad way. They say, Just go with the flow, but no-one tells you that the bridge is out up ahead, and all these people are headed for a sudden fall into death. We always think that death is something that happens to the other guy. We think that hell is only for “really horrible people”. But, from a biblical perspective, when the Bible lists those who are destined for hell, based on our own behavior, we would all fall into this list in one way or another, at some time in our lives. Revelation 21:8 tells us 8 But for the cowardly, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and sexually immoral persons, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Some of these things could be found amongst churchgoers such as: The cowardly – those who would never stand for Jesus in front of their friends, and hide their Christianity to get along, and make their lives easier. The faithless – those who went to church but never really trusted God enough to obey him with their relationships, or their resources, or anything important to them. The idolaters – those who wouldn’t put God first in their lives, but instead put money or status or power first in their lives.
Liars -those who came to church but whose submission to God was not sincere. All fall short, and we must trust Jesus as Lord and Savior to be saved. Well, you say, But God loves us, would he really send those he loves to hell? (see Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10).
and there are many who enter through it.Hell is an eternal place of torment. We don’t want anyone to go there, but the fact is that all of us—no matter where we fall in that list, fall short of the glory of God, His perfect righteous standard, and are deserving of this default destination.
You say, “But how is that fair? An eternity in hell for only 75 years of sin?” Sin gains its wickedness by the one it’s committed against. The amount of goodness and innocence that you’re sinning against determines the seriousness of the crime, and it is an infinitely holy God that we have sinned against, Psalm 51:4 4 Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight. And sin against an infinitely Holy God, who loves us with an everlasting love, is infinitely wicked. You say, “Why can’t God just let it go?” Because he is also infinitely just. And justice demands restitution in some way. The desire we all have for God to ultimately right all wrongs and restore justice to the universe—that necessitates judgment. As Romans 12:11-12 says 11 For it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, to Me every knee will bow, And every tongue will give praise to God.” 12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. You say, “Well, why doesn’t God do something about it?” He has! He put on Jesus the full punishment for our sin. He took on every single bit of it so nothing would be left for us. There are only two ways to pay for sin: You can accept God’s plan and the Son of God can die for it, or we can pay for it eternally in hell. And if we don’t receive what he has offered to us—the free gift of salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross—then what other choice does God have? If we won’t accept salvation, if we continue to push God away, if we insist on pushing down his will and magnifying our own, what more can God do? As C.S. Lewis said, there are, in the end, only two groups of people—those who say to God, “Your will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Your will be done.” And with sadness and loss, ratifies the decision that they have made to go to hell. Hell is a bad choice based on believing the lies and deception on this fallen world, and the ruler of this age, the devil, rather than God the author of truth and life. But it doesn’t have to be that way for you.
14 For the gate is narrow
God always provides what is needed, and if He has provided a narrow gate that leads to life, then that’s all that is needed. It’s a sad commentary on humanity, but it’s truthful. Romans 3:12 says 12 They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, There is not even one.” None of us deserve eternal life, but a few are able to find it, because God, in His Love for us, has made The Way through Jesus His Son. 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”
and the way is constricted that leads to life,
The way is not constricted because there are too many people trying to follow. I’ve been in some crowded churches from time to time, but I have never seen a church that needed a “No Vacancy” sign.
and there are few who find it.
No, the Bible says that there are few who find it. And why is that? Because the word for “constricted” here means pressure, and it has another connotation that is used in Matthew: it also means suffering under pressure. As Christians, we suffer due to persecution: Paul says in 2nd Timothy 3:11-12 11 persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! 12 Indeed, all who want to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. The pressure of persecution will always come upon you if you make a stand for Jesus, and the more public and against the grain you stand, the more persecution. And, of course no-one except a masochist enjoys being persecuted. It’s necessary, not enjoyable. We rejoice because of the end result of suffering, that it teaches us that God will get us through suffering and that He doesn’t abandon us during suffering. James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Suffering produces a tenacity and a grounding in Jesus, our Foundation, our Solid Ground, a trust that our anchor will hold during the storm, that we will not be shipwrecked, that nothing else will produce.Romans 5:3-5 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. And so we rejoice at how these sufferings change us and conforms our character to look more like Jesus. And as we see this in ourselves, it gives us a witness that we’re not the same as we were before, and we learn to respond to the love that has been poured into us by loving others.
Following The Way to life put us under pressure, because it takes pressure to mold us and shape us. It takes pressure to fix the twisting and deformity that happens to us through years of living in this fallen world—all of the worldly bad habits we learn, all of the fleshly ways of thinking, all of the worldly wisdom that’s demonic.
God had a specific design in mind when He created us, and when we first come to Him, we look nothing like it. Genesis 1:26-27 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. When we come to Him, we bear the image of God in that we have dignity because we were created in His image, but that image has been deformed by sin, and needs a lot of correcting. Romans 8:29-30 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. If Hebrews 5:8 lets us know that suffering was good for Jesus’ character saying Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. Then how much more do we who are sinners by nature require this molding of our character? And this process of becoming more and more identified with Jesus through suffering becoming more and more like Him, although it’s often uncomfortable, is absolutely necessary. Romans 8:13-17 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. The amount that we are willing to allow ourselves to learn the lessons of suffering, and allow God to shape us and conform us is directly proportional to the amount we’ll be glorified together with Him.
(Phil 3:12-16)–Keep pressing on toward the goal of reaching that Narrow Gate through living your life in the Way of Jesus and for the Kingdom of God.
28 Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
The Gospel of Matthew presents the Resurrection of Jesus as the culmination of Jesus’ mission as the Messiah.
As followers of Jesus, it’s important for us to understand that the cross and resurrection are the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a savior, cornerstone of our faith, it is the primary mission of Jesus’ life, and is the foundation of the gospel. It can be truly said that if you do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ than you are not a Christian in any ultimately meaningful, saving sense.
We don’t see Matthew mention the spices that are so prominent in Luke since the important anointing had already occurred in Matthew 26:12-13 12 For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. 13 Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her.” It was this anointing out of her repentant heart and love for Him as Messiah that was the true anointing. The women thought that they were going to pay respects and anoint Jesus’ body, thinking that they were arriving just in time, but found out that their role was instead as the primary, first-hand witnesses to both the burial and the resurrection. The women will become the first witnesses to the resurrection, a fact that seems to guarantee the credibility of the account in a world that usually did not accept women’s testimony as legally binding. If this were a made-up story designed to persuade people, the last thing that the disciples would do is include women as their primary witnesses. So these women could verify both the location of Jesus’ burial, and that by the morning of the 3rd day, the tomb was empty—thereby proving that God had fulfilled His word not to allow Jesus to see corruption or decay.
2 And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone, and sat upon it.
When we see the word Behold, in the Bible, it’s like God is saying, “Watch this, you’re going to see something special”. There were not one, but two great earthquakes during Holy Week.
The first was when Jesus died on the Cross. After three hours of darkness at midday on Good Friday, Our Lord Jesus exclaimed the words “It is finished!” as He died on the cross. Immediately, 51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. 52 Also the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; (Matt 27:51-54). The earthquake upon the death of Christ called attention to the great salvation that had been accomplished that day on the cross. The barrier between God and man was removed by Jesus’ atoning work on the Cross, and was symbolized by the tearing of the Temple’s veil, from top to bottom, In our verses today, we read of a second great earthquake that marked the end of Jesus’ time in the tomb. But, this time, the agent that God used to cause the earthquake is revealed. An angel of the Lord descended from heaven, causing the earthquake which rolled away the stone. And just to be sure that the enemy wouldn’t try to roll it back again, the angel sat on the stone for good measure!
3 And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.
Now, if you saw an angel in their more natural state, with a countenance or face made out of lightning, shining with glorious brightness, coming from the presence of God himself, brightly illuminating the whole tomb, then you would be amazed, and fearful, just as they were.
4 The guards shook from fear of him and became like dead men.
Now, why does Matthew bother to tell us about the very different reaction of the guards? These were the same guards that we read about in Matthew 27 vs. 62-66, who were there, not there to serve Jesus, as the women were, but to attempt to hinder His mission.
5 And the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified.
He knows that they are followers of Jesus, and he confirms that Jesus has been crucified and had been dead. The angel acknowledges that they have come to the right place, the tomb of Jesus. And that it’s the same Jesus—Jesus of Nazareth.
6 He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.
They are looking for a corpse, but no body remains. Jesus is resurrected, not just spiritually alive, but bodily resurrected, so that the tomb is empty. His own predictions in Matthew have come true (16:21; 17:23; 20:19). The voice of the verb ēgerthē is passive (“he was raised”). God raised Him. The angel tells them, He is risen; He is not here. Talk about exceeded expectations. This is exactly the opposite of what they expected to find in the tomb. With this one word, risen, the whole scenario changes. The tragedy of His crucifixion is revealed as a triumph over death and sin. The women who had probably spent the past 3 days crying were suddenly filled with joy! He’s Alive—the one that we saw killed in horrible suffering is Alive. The one who we believed in as Messiah, then were suddenly thrown into such confusion when he was killed, is alive, and God has sent His angel to tell us so! They get to hear, for the first time, the central belief, the most important thing in Christianity. Paul later makes this point in 1 Corintians 15:3-4 3 For I handed down to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, This is the means by which God saves us. It is because Christ died, paying for all of our sins, was buried and was raised from the dead that we can be saved. And it is our belief in Jesus, whom God has sent to do this very thing. The wages of sin is death—it should have been us sinners hanging on that tree, but (John 3:16 ) 6 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. God gave Jesus, so we wouldn’t have to die for our sins. And God raised Jesus to show that the price had been paid. The resurrection is like the receipt from God saying that the price had been paid and that He has accepted the payment. And we can bank on the fact of the resurrection, trusting Him with what is most precious—our eternity. Or as Paul continues in 1st Corinthians 15:20-23 20 But the fact is, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man death came, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, He is coming back folks, and you want to be His when He does. You want to be found in Christ when He returns.
Come, see the place where He was lying.
These words let us know that they saw the place where Jesus had been laid empty, and that they could verify, as eye witnesses, that Jesus was no longer in his tomb on the morning of the third day.
7 And go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see Him; behold, I have told you.”
And then the angel gives them a mission. And he tells them to go quickly. Why quickly? Not so much because time is of the essence, but because of the exciting news they have to bring! The best news ever! They are to go tell Jesus’ disciples that He is no longer dead, that God has raised Him from the Dead. Acts 2:24 24 But God raised Him from the dead, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. As Acts 2:24 tells us. He put an end to the agony of death, not only for Himself, but for us as well. Hell and death had no power over Him, because He did not sin. Remember, at the Last Supper, Jesus had said: as recorded in Matthew 27:32 32 But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” If the disciples had really understood, then they would have been waiting for Him in Galilee, and would have likely got to see Him sooner, and spend more time with Him.
8 And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to report to His disciples.
Verse 8 says “They left the tomb quickly.” Another way to translate it is that they ran quickly to tell the disciples. They were no longer afraid of having to face the death of their Lord, they now had a Holy fear of the awesomeness of God. But more importantly, and more at the top of their heart was a profound joy. Joy must have the last word in the hearts of these women who had come to mourn and anoint the dead, and are leaving shouting “He’s Alive!”
9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Rejoice!” And they came up and took hold of His feet, and worshiped Him.
Notice that it’s when the joy was overflowing in their hearts in faith, taking God at His word, despite the seeming impossibility of what the angel had said that they see Jesus. It’s the same with us. It’s when we take steps out in faith that God reveals Himself as our protector, our provider our all-becoming-One who is whatever is needed at the time.